The Russian cargo ship rolled in the waves, as the biggest Typhoon in years smashed the Sea of Japan. The Captain chain-smoked an endless supply of cigarettes as the cargo ship pitched violently from one side to the other.
The expressionless man who’d stood on the bridge next to the Captain the entire way from the Strait of Tartary emerged again from the rest room, wiping his mouth. He looked as green as the sea waters, pouring over the ship.
“Where are we?” The GRU man asked him, struggling to maintain footing in the storm, and to maintain his stomach from emptying itself again. He was having dry heaves that this point, long ago running out of anything in his stomach to void.
“I think we are on the surface of the ocean, but I’m not sure.” The Captain said. He began turning the wheel, feeling the ship fight him.
“Where on the map?” The GRU agent asked again.
“Below Hokkaido, in Japan.” The Captain said around a mouthful of cigarette. The inch of ash at the end of the cigarette bounced up and down without breaking. The ship’s bow went under a massive wave, and came back up again. The ship shuddered as the water smashed into the superstructure of the cargo ship.
“We have to turn into the Tsugaru Strait.” The Captain said. He puffed out smoke.
The GRU agent struggled to the chart table only a couple of feet behind the Captain. He ran a finger across the map.
“This will take us miles off course!” The GRU agent protested. He would shout, but the seasickness had made him too weak for that.
“Do you have your life preserver on?” The Captain asked.
“No.” The GRU agent said.
“Go put it on.” The Captain finally dropped the ash from his cigarette.
“Why?” The agent asked.
“I’m not worried about finding Pyonyang.” The Captain puffed on the cigarette. “I’m worried about putting us close to a port where when we sink, you can be rescued.”
“You think we will sink?” Terror stole over the GRU agent.
“I don’t think, I am positive.” The Captain said. “If we sink on our present course, you will die in the waters before you can swim to a port. If I turn, then we will be only a short distance from Tokyo. There are many places on the coast you can safely get to.” He dropped the spent cigarette and patted his pockets for a pack. “You’d better take care of our large friend down below. And get that vest on. Hurry below decks. Get your men on the deck.”
“How long do we have?” The GRU man asked.
The Captain shrugged. “Perhaps five minutes. Perhaps the next roll in the waves.”
“How deep is the ocean here?” He asked. It was important for what he had to do next.
“Two thousand meters.”
The GRU agent grabbed his life jacket, strapping it on in a hurry. Fear drove his feet across the deck, slipping in the water. The shock of the cold ocean water flooding across the deck convinced him of the truth… they were going to sink soon. The GRU agent waded in freezing thigh deep water on the deck, already draining out the portholes. He grabbed the door leading into the cargo hold. The screaming wind and rain threatened to tear him loose and send him over the side, but he forced himself into the hold.
Down the stairs, the shockingly cold water pouring on him from above as he made his way down. He lit his way with his lighter, making his way to the monstrosity crouching in the bowels of the ship. He found the panel. Hands shaking, he put in the combination, popping it open. He realized he was bending over the device, holding a flame near it. But he had no other way.
He put in the information, trying to remember how to do this. It was a long time ago in Kiev when he’d sat in a room, being taught how to do this, and he hoped he was setting it correctly. The display changed, and he saw 2000 display on it. He swallowed in fear as water came pouring down from the yawing opening above him. The water slowed and stopped, and he began to breathe easier. Russia had no ships that could retrieve something at a depth of two thousand meters.
But America did. He pressed the last button and watched the display anxiously. The numbers were not changing, so he hoped he’d done it correctly. He ascended out of the hold, agonizingly cold sea water pouring down onto him. His fingers were numb, and he looked at his blue hands as he got on deck. He’d lost the lighter below. The GRU agent opened the door of the superstructure, and bellowed inside. “Get on the deck! Have your vests on!”
His men poured outside, shivering and complaining as the freezing water rose to knee deep.
An alarm began to sound. The ship rolled, and they all slid on the deck.
The door opened above, and the Captain emerged, making his way on the deck.
The GRU’s second in command grabbed him as they hurried to the rail, the water now thigh deep. He shouted something and the GRU agent couldn’t make it out. He put his mouth against the GRU agent’s ear and shouted.
“The bomb! What about the bomb?”
“I have set it to detonate at two thousand meters!” He shouted back.
“You fool! We will be over it when it sinks that low!” The second in command screamed.
“Swim quickly!” The agent shouted back.
The ship rolled, the railing disappearing under the water.
“JUMP! SWIM!” The Captain screamed. He shoved the GRU agent into the water, jumping in after him. All of the Russians dove into the water as fast as they could. The Russian ship began to right itself, but it was groaning, groaning. The ship was low in the water, and getting lower. The lights in the cabin went out, and the ship seemed to disappear in the storm.
They swam for their lives, taking off like Olympic athletes. They could hear creaking metal behind them, and a groan. Metal stressed.
There was popping sounds, and more groans. Glass broke.
“It is sinking!” The Captain shouted. “Swim for your lives!”
A large swell of water seemed to lift them up and drive them forward. The Captain lifted up the small device strapped to his vest. The light on it was on. He swam as quickly as he could.
The noise behind them sounded like the scream of a tortured metal beast. The Captain was not emotional, but it sounded like the dying scream of a faithful ship. They swam. Fingers and toes were losing feeling, legs feeling heavy. The Captain could hear the panting and sobbing as men splashed forwards. The Typhoon was sending waves over them, strong winds. A massive wave swept over them.
The Captain broke the surface. He saw the terrified GRU man and some of his sailors. “We’re being driven apart by the storm!” The Captain shouted. “Stay close!”
The storm was getting worse. This was a furious typhoon, the likes of which he had never seen. The Captain resolved to change his career to being a taxi driver in Moscow if he made it home after this. He risked a glance over his shoulder, and couldn’t see the ship. There was a fading glow off in the distance under the water, marking the burial spot of his ship.
He swam. The movement of his arms slowed. He felt heavy. Tired. His mouth was full of salty brine taste, and he spat the sea water out. The ship would go part way down, and doubtless break in two.
The behemoth inside the ship would slide free, and fall clear. It would reach the bottom before the ship did, as it was rounded. It might even roll. The seas were pulling eastward, which meant it would slide possibly into the abyssal trench before detonating.
How long did it take for a ship designed for buoyancy to sink? He didn’t know. There would be trapped pockets of air inside the ship, holding it up.
He could hear a boom under the water, and for a second he almost lost control of his bladder. The Captain realized he’d just heard the bulkheads of the ship collapse. The water was getting choppy. He heard something, and something splashed in the water. He grabbed it, wrapping his arms around it. He kept a death grip on it as something dragged him up. He was laid on something hard, and hands grabbed him, carrying him inside something. He saw words. “NANKAI” was stenciled on the wall. He couldn’t understand it, trying to translate it from Cyrillic into western letters. Heat and light covered him, and excited voices were talking to him.
“Hey, Joe… you okay?” He heard. “You all right?”
“Ya Nepudnyemaya.” He answered in Russian. There was more talking, and soon he heard squawking from a radio. “Kak Dela?” He heard squawk from the radio. He grasped the mouthpiece, and dragged it close.
“Translate this quickly.” The Captain said “We are in danger from a nuclear explosion. There is a hydrogen bomb sinking. It will explode at a depth of two thousand meters. We are only a half mile away from it.”
He handed the microphone back as he heard the voice repeat his message in Japanese. The men on the ship began shouting, and footsteps began to run. After a minute, the engines of the boat roared into high gear.
The Captain looked around him, and saw only one other of his crew, laying on the deck. He closed his eyes as they wrapped him in a blanket.
“Devyatnadsat.” He said. “Vocemnadsat. Semnadsat. Shestnadsat. Pyatnadsat. Chetirnadsat. Trinadsat. Dvenadsat. Odinnadsat.” He brought his arm up, pulling a small chain and medallion out of his tunic, shivering. He kissed the medallion and let it drop. “Decyat. Devyat. Vocem. Sem. Shest.”
Nobody needed to translate to Japanese. The sailors around him were in a state of panic listening. The Captain crossed himself fervently, remembering his youth of attending secret church services, and how the priest had taught him to cross himself. “Pyat. Chetire. Tri. Dva.” His hand dropped and his eyes closed. A tear slowly ran down his cheek. “Odin.”
There was a sound in the distance. The sailors stopped talking. They stared at each other, fear in their faces. The ship creaked slightly. Then it shook.
The ship felt as if a hand had lifted it up and shoved it. There was shouting as the sailors ran for the deck. Some made it out onto the deck in the midst of the storm. A massive wave lifted, lifted, bubbling, rising. White sea water raced underneath them, and suddenly the sea lifted. Waves rolled along, crashing down on the men on the deck.
The ship continued, as the men picked themselves up from the deck.
One of the Japanese sailors touched his face. He felt like heat was crawling across his face, prickly heat. He stood, and walked towards the hatchway. He dropped onto the deck, tired. The heat in his skin was burning.
He closed his eyes. Breath escaped his mouth, impossibly long.
He never rose again.
Category: Book info (Page 1 of 2)
The Russian cargo ship rolled in the waves, as the biggest Typhoon in years smashed the Sea of Japan. The Captain chain-smoked an endless supply of cigarettes as the cargo ship pitched violently from one side to the other.
Years ago, I started a Star Trek novel, which I abandoned because there was no internet, no place to find the kind of information I’ve been sharing for the last year. The only book I’d gotten on how to write fiction was from a man whose novels were all rejected, and he had the worst advice possible in his book – “Let your story simmer for a few years. Then write them.”
So earlier this year, I began writing it again, just for myself and to actually finish the thing up.
When I planned this novel out back in 1978, I had of course Kirk and Spock. But after so many years, I’ve changed it up. This is the story of Joseph P. Lohman (pronounced Low-man).
The catalyst of the story is literally his personality. In Roddenberry’s somewhat lacking novel of “Star Trek – The Motion Picture”, there was a comment from Kirk that the first Starfleet was filled with the smartest, the most brilliant people Earth could offer, but they actually were a poor choice for Starfleet. So Kirk was the first class of the “lower standards” Starfleet.
My premise for the novel is – what if one of these brilliant types was to enroll in the lower standard Starfleet that Kirk excelled in? What would it be like?
Lohman is a guy with an IQ in the 170’s. He has the ability to take one skill you show him or give him, and turn it into a hundred unrelated skills, simply because he can see the possibilities.
The back story for Lohman is that he – like a lot of other geniuses – has a hard time relating to other people who aren’t as brilliant as he is. So he’s perpetually in trouble. He wants to be a Starship commander, but his mouth and his temperament keeps him in so much trouble, that it’s not likely he’s going to ever get command.
Now, Lohman is the kind of man who doesn’t suffer fools at all. And he has absolutely no filter between brain and mouth if you’re an idiot.
He’s got a mirror character – Ramaar, the villain of the series. Ramaar ends up the Praetor of the Romulan Empire. Both of them have exactly the same personality, except that Ramaar is bent on conquest.
When you create two characters like this, suddenly everything in the universe seems to fall away from between them. There’s going to be a war, and Lohman is going to face off against Ramaar – no matter what.
There’s your antagonist and protagonist. Honor drives them both.
So, character drives plot – plot drives character. What’s my situation at the beginning of the book?
Lohman in Starfleet Academy is given a lecture in Starship design by a man with too much arrogance and not enough brains. The man gives a brief lecture on the scrapped design for a battleship, called the Dreadnought. He describes its brief history, and mocks it as insufficient.
Right away you can see that’s going to irritate Lohman. So what’s he do? He spends the rest of that day and night updating the Dreadnought design to current Starfleet standards, and starts getting ahead of himself. he updates the design to far exceed all other Starfleet ships. And he sneaks into the classroom, and loads the new design onto the projector screen. The next day the arrogant instructor turns on the screen, and is humiliated as the new design is projected in the middle of the classroom.
Put things together. What’s coming next? Lohman is going to become the captain of the new design of Dreadnoughts, in time to face war with the Romulans.
This is how you set up your characters. Make them diametric opposites. Make them huge, bombastic. Make it seem as if the conflict is inevitable, predestined. And you have an epic novel in the making.
All you need is the right inciting incident.
Character Creation sheets run the gamut from “Name Height Weight Hair Color” to “At what age did your character first drink a soda?”
I’m divided on this myself. Usually when I come up with an idea for a book, I usually can flesh the idea for the book out in 5 minutes, flowchart it, plan it, and have my synopsis created within a day. And start writing it the next. Hence my oft-repeated “It should only take you a month to write an average novel”.
I’ve just never done Character sheets ever. I got started a little on them, but not in depth.
But the other day I wrote about the Dramatica theory of characters, so I made up character sheets to go in my notebook. Pretty much it’s the standard “Height weight M/F (circle one)”, BUT…
I added in the eight Dramatica characters. All you have to do is put a checkmark in the space, or write a one word note about how they are that character type.
THEN I added Michael Hauge’s bit. In his book on “Writing Screenplays that sell”, he talked about inner motivation and outer motivation. So I added that, and may revise my sheets to have more stuff in them.
Here’s how the sheets look – you can copy this and paste it into the character profiles in Scrivener.
Name ______________________ M/F (Circle One)
Height______ Weight______ Age______
High School______ College______
Protagonist ______ Antagonist______ Reflection ______
Start of Story Situation______________________________________
Changed by Outcome________________________________________
That’s about all I have in it! I don’t get into the “Favorite book in third grade” thing, because it’s like a movie writer once said, you’ve got them in a dilemma, they’ve got conflict and you can’t see the way out of it, and now you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to put in there that they like crunchy peanut butter.
But what I’ve got above really is enough for you to get a feel for your character.
The funny thing is, once I was done with the sheets, I filled out a few, and I saw that I’d actually neglected to put some of this into my first novel! So I could see right away the value of at least minimal character sheets.
I may update this sheet in the future!
Cotagonist______ Sidekick______ Guardian ______ Skeptic______
Okay, I wrote “The Island” in one night.
I literally wrote out a basic logline during a break in the day, wrote out a list of how everyone dies, and that was it. Then after all my nightly stuff, I opened Scrivener and began writing.
4200 words later, I was done. I couldn’t tell that story in just 1,500 words. I couldn’t give any back story, or give you an eye into the social structure of the Island, or give you developed characters in a 1,500 word story.
It required me to go to bed 15 minutes later, to be able to finish the story. And the next day I dragged at work, because that was some seriously intense writing.
What was I trying to portray in the story? I wanted to show how absolute chaos ensues when people panic. I wanted to show how a single man can completely change the way people think with a few comments.
Ernie Lee held a great deal of power over the community. The storekeeper Cary (yes, I know Squirrel Island doesn’t have stores, but I decided to make this story on a different Island!) had to divert a considerable amount of energy into watching Ernie the entire time, to keep Ernie from stealing something, or to distract Cary into letting him take something on credit he’d probably never pay.
We all know that person.
Ernie also had a single problem – he was a sociopath. He simply didn’t know right from wrong. Well, more accurately, Ernie knew right from wrong – he just couldn’t understand those concepts as they were applied to him. His responses if asked would be, a literal, “I don’t know what you mean.” So when they spotted a massive explosion that turned out to be a car crashing into a transformer and exploding, Ernie of course honestly thought it was an atomic bomb. And his words scared everyone, because when Ernie Lee states he’s going to survive, the very way that Carey was watching his store now becomes how everyone else watched their life. Ernie’s going to kill me, and if he’s going to do it, everyone else will too. It’s actually only four of them.
I borrowed one man from The Birds and from Jaws for my story – Missing Guy. In Jaws, it was Ben Gardner. These people never lived. They were dead from the moment the story was written. Who killed Missing Guy? Ernie. He beat the guy to death with the shovel. Darian only kills two men in the story. But again, that was part of Ernie’s plan – get them all to kill each other, and Ernie would just opportunistically take what was left.
The Island was originally titled “Squirrel Island”, but of course, I had to use artistic license, by putting a general store on it, and cars and trucks. And there are no permanent residents of Squirrel Island. In my story, there’s less than a dozen permanent residents.
Almost all of them are French. That’s a little known thing in some parts of Maine – There’s been a culture clash between the French and the Anglo’s for over a century. In most of Maine, it’s not so noticeable. It still can be found in some areas, like Lisbon Falls and Durham.
Where the French settle in, it’s usually in small communities. So I decided to make The Island one of those places. And because of its nature (a place where only a few people live every year), all of them are French except for one Anglo – who’s dead before the story even starts (Mike Johnson).
The antagonism between Ruthie Johnson and Ernie Lee is one of the established resident versus the outsider. Brooke was a outsider moved in like Ruthie, but because she was French, she was accepted, whereas Ruthie was not. Ruthie’s speech was designed to show them that. Probably none of the residents had ever realized that Ruthie was an outsider still, even though she lived on the Island longer than Brooke.
However, the only real antagonism Ruthie had was from Ernie. Carey’s reaction shows that the Islanders didn’t believe Ruthie killed her husband – but in New England once a rumor gets going, it gets a life of its own.
One of my goals was to give you an antagonist so nasty, you HAD to hate him. This is something I think authors have been getting away from, and it leaves the reader unsatisfied. Your villain is a villain because he’s too smart. Or he had a facial disfiguration as a boy, and so that’s why he became a body builder and a serial killer. Seriously, you don’t have to explain villains! You don’t have to justify them! Why is he a villain? Because he’s evil! I’ve found ample evidence in over 50 years of personal experience some people are just wholly given over to evil, and don’t care. Are they all sociopaths? No. The worst evil is done by people who know good from bad, understand how it applies to them, and have just made the conscience decision to go ahead and do wrong. Sometimes villains are villains because they’re evil.
Ernie murders Ruthie because he’s killing the outsiders, and purging his community. It’s satisfying to him. And he taunts her as she drowns by telling her that he knew all along she didn’t kill Mike, Ernie killed him years before.
In that one act, the reader now can’t wait to see Ernie die. Ernie killed a man, then taunts his widow for years by diverting blame? Oh, he’s got to die! Readers love to see despicable characters get their come-uppance.
Stephen Gagnon was originally named Elliot, and Brooke was originally named Elena. But that gave me three people in a short story who’s names start with “E”, and you can’t have that.
I debated the twist ending quite a bit. I wanted to write the story strong enough, so that you had to think it was a nuclear bomb, it really was World War III. But I couldn’t talk about an explosion that lasted minutes, the continuing roar, a blast of wind, stuff banged around on the Island, and then turn it into a car crash! In one of my novels I give you a blow by blow description of an atomic bomb explosion, and what it would be like to be within a mile or two of it. So that’s something I’ve done.
I could easily turn this into a movie script – the pacing is just right for it. But I’d be annoying and insist that all the actors have genuine Maine Accents.
I think the hardest part for me was this – whether to leave it like an “On the Beach” ending, or like it was. If you read it again, but stop at Brooke and Stephen in the police station after Ernie has been killed, the story has a chilling feel to it. I didn’t know if that’s how I wanted to end it or not? But for me the twist ending was the most satisfying.
There’s a phrase among screenwriters – I think Jeannie Bowerman came up with it. Novelists have adopted it as well.
The “Vomit” draft.
What in the world?
The concept is that in my first draft – whether novel or screenwriting – I’m not going to worry about rules, structure, correct format, etc.
The entire idea of your first draft is to vomit words on the white space on your screen in Scrivener or in Final Draft.
Then later, during the edit process, you can worry about Dave Trottier standing behind you with a large wooden ruler, saying “The correct formatting for a scene without sound is MOS.”
Is this scene a sequel to the previous scene?
I don’t care.
Does this scene promise something I’ve got to deliver on later?
I don’t care.
I’ll care about all that in the first re-write. For now… I’m getting this scene down before I lose it.
Carpenter watched through the binoculars. The quads had stopped, and the men dismounted. The man working the radio equipment was so close, it looked like they could just reach out and touch him. He looked annoyed, fiddling with earphones. Carpenter slowly moved his binoculars, and saw one of the troopers looking intently down. The trooper motioned to another trooper, who walked casually over to him. The first one said something, and the body of the second one stiffened a little.
“Are they looking?” McKinney whispered. Carpenter paused.
“They’re looking.” He said finally. There was no mistaking the actions Of the UN troops. They were actively looking. Two or three were speaking on radios while scanning with binoculars. McKinney was nervous as he watched through his own as one seemed to stare right at him.
“What do we do?” McKinney asked.
Carpenter was silent. “That depends on if they go away or not.” he answered grimly. “If not, then we fight. We take out as many as we can, and then the rest of you start the retreat to the boats. Load the boats, and head towards Greenland. I’ll cover the retreat while you get everyone to safety. If they go away, that was our close call. We pack up and move today. It was time to move, anyway.”
“You’re gonna need help if it turns to shooting.” McKinney said. Carpenter shook his head.
“We’ve already discussed this. Your job is important. You have to get everyone to safety.” McKinney nodded, and pushed the radio earpiece back in his ear. Carpenter caught his arm.
“If I don’t make it… Be sure to tell Alison I love her.” He said. There was deadly seriousness in his eyes. McKinney nodded.
They watched. One of the soldiers was wandering down the trail. His eyes were down, as if he was following the trail. He stopped, staring at something. Then he turned and motioned to one of the watching Sergeants. The Commanding Officer strode over to him, as the soldier pointed at something. His hand swept back and forth. The Commanding Officer nodded.
“Show time.” Carpenter said grimly. He placed his eye to the scope of his rifle as the soldiers began walking down the trail. McKinney took the safety off his rifle, and moved slowly through the bush in slow, random movements as they’d practiced. He headed towards the shooting spot they’d practiced from.
See? I worried about who (first word!) what (second word) where (established in previous action snippet), and if there’s any other W words, I tossed them over my shoulder as I and Carpenter crawled through the undergrowth to approach the men on the quad!
This is writing. Get your vomit draft down. On the re-write you can get this all formatted nicely. You can make sure this snippet is the sequel to the previous snippet, if this scene promises something (oh, boy it does!) and if it delivers on previous promises (oh, yes… it does).
Get the raw words on paper. I tend to call my first draft a “Raw draft”, not a “first draft”. Edit later! You’ve got 1667 words to write today!
I bet the average book reader wonders if authors sit around and pontificate upon the motives and back stories of their characters. The answer is, yes… they do.
To make someone like Carpenter believable, he’s got to have back story. Much of the back story of your character never makes it to the books.
Like, Carpenter tried playing chess once and got completely wiped out by someone who wasn’t very literate, and described himself as a Texas redneck. And the humiliation of being beaten so badly made Carpenter never want to play chess again.
That will probably never make it to the books.
And of course, every one of my characters in some point in their lives has had the flu. Why? Almost everyone gets the flu. I’ve only met one or two people who can say they’ve never been sick.
But of course, there’s absolutely no reason to put that in the books. I suppose I could work that in, but who would care?
Recently I read some advice that I should have 5 writer friends. That would be a miracle, because I seem to have had a hundred acquaintances in my life, but precious few friends. The only real friends I have are of course my wife, and a guy I used to work with.
Sinus headaches are terrible. I’m sitting here rambling. It reminds me of the most horrible book I ever read in my life in school, Catcher in the Rye, where the hero character rambles and digresses for 400 pages.
Horrible book. Hated every word of it.
School made me read 1984. I read it, and tore out every page, one by one, and burned it. When they asked me where my book was, I told him, “I burned it. Page by page.” The teacher made me write that out as a book report, and I got an A on the class.
What I need right now is sinus meds.
I haven’t officially made a study of archetypes. What this is, is – heros. Your hero character. Let’s analyze some.
Jack Ryan (Clancy) – unwilling hero. Pushed into it when someone tries to kidnap the Princess of Wales in front of him. He then ends up getting into the CIA… and the world finds itself with a man who finds himself having to take an active role in all kinds of international drama.
The Man with No Name (Grimaldi/spaghetti westerns) – Can’t help but get involved. Tecnically, The Man with No Name has a name – it’s Joe Banco, also known as Blondie. He tends to try to keep to himself, but he cannot stand to see the strong bully the weak.
Frodo Baggins – tragic hero. He’s going to do what’s right, no matter what.
Luke Skywalker – wide eyed innocent kid who wants to do something, be something – and he finds himself on the other side, fighting with the Rebellion. He transforms from nerdy kid, to beaten skeptic, to Jedi Warrior.
Matthew Carpenter – (my character) the shorter Clint Eastwood. Former law enforcement, formerly a Karate competitor. Now just cold and trying to make it through the day, not reflecting on how lonely his life is. His assumption is, nobody else is going to do something, so… do something.
Edward Scissorhands – the outsider. He knows he’s a toy, but he wants to love. A tragic character, he loves, and knows he will have to love from afar.
Dirty Harry Callahan – Bitterness personified. He seems to be the only person in the world concerned with the rights of the victims. And his frustration levels with those who prey on the weak and those who keep telling him he can’t do this and that are roughly the same.
So, there’s a group of different heros. The right hero drives a story. I mean, Dirty Harry and Paul Kersey. Both of them react precisely the same – someone breaks the law, someone gets shot. But the essentail difference between Kersey and Dirty Harry drive the story. Both movies came out around the same time, both spawned franchises, both were hugely successful
you could go an entire career writing essentially the same story, and putting a different hero in it. It drives the story.
Years ago, I came up with a concept for a novel where a group of people wake up, and find most of civilization just… gone. You go to bed, everyone’s there, you wake up, most of the people are just… well… dead.
Then I was telling someone about a movie I saw years later, and he dismissed it by saying, “Yeah, well, that’s because 28 Days Later essentially ripped off your book idea.”
Of course, I couldn’t think of what to say about that.
Plots are really simple. “What if…?” And then building them is well, easy.
Characters, though, are essentially your answer.
If I take “The Last Man Alive” and replace Vincent Price’s Character with someone who essentially is a Clint Eastwood type, you suddenly get a different movie. That’s exactly how they created the “Omega Man”, was by taking “The Last Man Alive” and putting Charlton Heston in it. I guess Charlton went through a phase in the 60’s and Seventies where he suddenly was a Charles Bronson-Clint Eastwood type.
Your Characters become essentially the tool box you use. Hero needs impact character, but doesn’t know it. There’s sidekick, who manages to take the pressure off of Hero. Impact Character needs Nero, and you wonder how impact character made it through life previously. Antagonist is trying to ruin everything.
So… where do I get my characters? I write. They do something. That something often defines who they are for me, until more actions and more dialogue pops up.
I don’t put my friends into novels. I don’t put my co-workers into novels. One person who I see at work regularly, I borrowed his description for one character – but not his personality. I just needed something I could hang a hat on that character, and his hair ended up being it.
Nobody in my family ends up in my stories. I want to be able to read my stories and enjoy them, so… nobody in my family will ever be a character.
I just sit down, put fingers on keys, and I write a name. “Sarah”. Okay. “Sarah was reading a novel…”
Believe it or not, I see her now. She’s someone who’s mother was overly domineering, and so Sarah just left home after high school, got a job as a dog groomer at a pet store, and… she sits around at night, watching old classic movies. Her best friend taunts her by asking, “Is anyone in that movie even alive anymore?”
That’s how I create my characters. It’s a visceral, gut feeling. The hero of my stories I created one day, while trying to visualize him driving through traffic. The city I live in has a bizarre phenomenon I’ve never seen anywhere else – people here drive under the speed limit. It’s nothing at all for these people to just take up both lanes, and drive at 30 miles an hour in a 45 zone. And it doesn’t matter what you do, you can’t get around them.
So, my hero developed over a character that would drive at precisely 5 miles an hour over the speed limit. Enough to show he originated in New England, but precisely under control no more, no less than 5 miles an hour over the posted limit.
And I stuck him behind a car driving at precisely 5 miles an hour under the speed limit.
I saw my hero character right away. Fingers tapping at the steering wheel, snorting through his nose (did you know the ancient Hebrew word for Anger is also the same word for nose?). He needs to drive at precisely the right speed, and he’s being frustrated in that.
My impact character… it took me a little bit to see her. Essentially, I think I had her pegged by her questioning not only herself, but the Hero in one scene. “Are you sure we can do this?”
But it was the scene where you are introduced to her that defined her. I wrote a scene of her in the Realty office, where she’s struggling to figure out why her sales leads are always disappearing. And there’s a too-loud woman in the same office, who drives a Jaguar the Realty firm bought her, and she wears fur coats inside, just to show she’s made a lot of money.
The reader grasps it right away – Miss High Sales has been stealing Impact Character’s sales leads and made herself rich doing it. So, the impact character later on quite simply takes her address book home with her, and her portfolio. And suddenly she makes a million dollars in real estate sales in one three-week period.
I just was resolved, this woman was going to achieve every idle dream she’d had before the main part of the novel kicked in.
When you’ve got a 10-volume novel series, essentially you’re playing with the same characters. Every now and then, take one out, put a new one in. It changes up the mix, and essentially, the characters change as well. So, give them their needs in one book, deprive them in another.
So, that’s how I get my characters.
Two of my books I was hampered with by the face that book Number Two was so good.
Book three I hated, until about 90% done with it. suddenly, I had it in a place where I finally didn’t hate it any more.
The problem I guess is something everyone goes through when you write a book, and it’s really, really good. I had drama, death, pain, tears,… I mean, book two had it ALL. Even sheer terror and excitement.
When you hate your book, you have two choices – trash it and start over, or keep plugging until you like it.
I chose with book three to keep going. There was so much CONFLICT. I’m sure that makes for a tense book.
So, I had to really drag the reader through the mud for most of the book, before picking them up again.
Hopefully, it worked.
If you’re a writer, how do you get through it? If you feel like your book is simply not what you wanted, make snapshots with Scrivener, and start over. If you feel like it’s going in the wrong direction, then evaluate – can I save this? Or should I just delete, and start over again?
Don’t be afraid to simply throw away what’s not working. But save it in a backup! Because you may suddenly figure out in two years how to do it!
When I was writing my first novel, I had to pick a location. I was tempted to place it in Ontario. But I realized quickly, looking at a map (which is how Carpenter, the lead character would have done it) that the exit route determines the location. I needed to be able to leapfrog medium size boats from Canada to Baffin Island to Greenland to Iceland to Europe, and then bounce down to the English Channel, to Spain, into the Med, then finally into the Middle East.
So, that ruled out Northern Ontario. That would have added a near-impossible route out through the Hudson Bay. I mean, my characters are making that trip, but when you look at how much farther north they’re going…
So, my people’s end up settling in an area in Northern Quebec. It’s roughly level with Labrador, and it’s called Nunavik. It’s so sparsely populated that Canadians actually confuse it with Nunevut, on the west coast.
This meant pouring over Google Earth, zooming in as best as I could. I actually found a spot (and I marked down the long-lat somewhere, but can’t find where!) they would go. The area’s ideal, from aerial photography. The tree cover is so dense that you could be dancing in all flourescent colors waving flags, and a helicopter circling above wouldn’t see you. There’s streams and small lakes circling it. If you look at Nunevik, you’ll spot a heart shaped lake about 50 miles south of it. Lake Maurice is to the southwest, about another 50-75 miles.
Now, what Carpenter would have done is look at the terrain once he got to the location, and chosen a fairly flat location with a higher ridge to the south, and hills to the North, allowing them something to circle around in case of pursuit. That seems to describe every 30 feet in Nunevik.
If you’re a survivorman fan, be aware that every place Les Stroud was in the Boreal Forest was far to the south. Apparently, where I’m sending my people, there’s no surviving except on the coast.
Feel free to visit. Then again, you can simply go sit in the woods somewhere more accessible, and get the same feeling. Bring hot dogs.